Power, comfort, style, freedom -- all great features of motorcycle riding. Here's how to add safety to that list.
"People tend to worry a little too much about style, and I'm guilty of it, too, especially on a beautiful day," says Bonnie Mogle, who, at 4 feet 11 inches tall and less than 100 pounds, found the Harley-Davidson V-Rod to be a great fit and performer for road trips. "I don't like to mess up my hair with a helmet. But I don't think we should be so full of ourselves that we can't put one on, have a good time and be safe."
Mogle speaks from experience. "I fell on the interstate," she says. "A semi cut me off to take an exit in the rain. He forced me off the road with four other bikes. I was lying on the road, scraped up, and he just kept on driving. It was very, very scary. Everyone thought I was dead. It was a good thing I had my helmet on. It had big grooves on it from scraping the asphalt. If I hadn't had my helmet on, I would have been dead for sure. But I wound up without any serious injuries."
Mogle encourages people not only to wear helmets but also to spend the $100 or more to purchase a good one that will really protect you when you need it. "Anything is better than none," she says, "but helmets are rated. Look for a DOT rating rather than buy a generic helmet. Find one that is comfortable and fits your head so you'll choose to wear it." And once it's been hit, replace it. Helmets can't withstand multiple crashes.
Aaron Wachtel, a parts manager for RTD Motorsports, rides a Honda CRF 450 on off-road terrain recreationally and competitively. Whether riding in town, on the highway or in off-road situations, Wachtel says, he "wouldn't get on a bike at any time without a helmet. You've got to prepare for the worst."
Wachtel believes in using personal safety apparel rather than some of the proposed motorcycle equipment modifications. "I've heard people talk about putting seat belts or some other type of restraining system into motorcycles, but in my experience, the best thing you can do in the event of a wreck is be away from the bike," he says.
When it comes to safety gear, he says: "Helmet, definitely. I'm not a believer in helmet laws, but you take your life in your own hands if you're not wearing one." In addition to a Snell-approved motocross helmet, Wachtel wears leather apparel, including a jacket with body armor (padding) built into the arms, shoulders and back. "Leather vest, jacket, pants and chaps all help to prevent road rash when you go down," Wachtel says.
Mogle agrees with Wachtel about leather. "Leather gloves, jacket, chaps and boots -- people think they are about looking cool, but they're not all about a 'profile.' They really do save your skin. Talk to anyone who's gone down wearing leather. Chances are that person didn't lose as much skin because of it."
He also wears a chest protector with a hard breastplate and spine protection, knee guards, shin guards, protective boots for leg and ankle support, and a neck roll. There are very similar items for street use. Wachtel mentions a vest with air bags that inflate when a rider is thrown off a bike. "I don't have any personal experience with those vests, but I've seen them at a trade show, and they don't look too intrusive."
One such item on the market is the Armored Air Jacket, a wearable air bag protection system. Armored Air Jackets "come equipped with a small carbon dioxide air cartridge attached to a ripcord that is tethered to the motorcycle," according to a press release. "The inflated air bag provides an armor-like layer of extra protection to the most vulnerable areas of the body, including the neck, chest, back, ribs and spine, thereby reducing injury as the cyclist impacts with another object or the roadway." For more information about Armored Air Jackets, visit http://www.ArmoredAirJackets.com.
The safety gear is important, Mogle says. "We owe it to the people who care about us. It's selfish not to take care of ourselves."